DEMING, N.M. (AP) — Border drug smuggling operations have turned to small packs of young, aggressive men who are increasing using the remote Texas-New Mexico desert, federal agents say.
Agents said some of the illegal immigrants carry 50 pounds of drugs for several days, travel in groups of two to five, and evade capture by heading quickly to mountain canyons along the Texas-New Mexico border, the Las Cruces Sun-News (http://bit.ly/y9j5El ) reported Sunday.
The area includes a cavernous maze where the stone ground makes it harder to follow tracks and rocky terrain blocks smugglers from view.
Bobby Stephens, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection agent, said the groups are a significant change from the families, including women and children, that often made the trek north.
“With family groups, they knew they were caught, they did everything they were told,” he said. “There were no problems at all. Now there is a lot more risk.”
The younger groups of illegal immigrants tend to fight and resist capture, he said.
The change came as smugglers try to adjust to beefed-up security along the border that has resulted in large drops in the number of arrests since 2006.
An increase in agents — from 11,000 to 21,000 nationwide since 2005 — a border fence, and more advanced tracking technology in urban areas have left only the fittest segment of immigrants willing to venture to the least populated areas of the border for a push into the U.S., agents said.
The race to the mountain canyons is becoming increasingly familiar to agents in the El Paso sector area that last year saw 45,000 pounds of illicit drugs confiscated.
Stephens said agents are using horse patrols to combat the smaller groups.
“With horses we can go a lot faster, and can bring it to a law enforcement conclusion a lot quicker,” said Stephens, who is stationed in Deming. “We don’t have as many people getting away from us with the horses.”
Horses have been assigned to 61 agents to patrol the El Paso sector, which covers 268 linear miles of the international boundary. It includes all of New Mexico; 88 miles along the Rio Grande between Santa Teresa and Fort Hancock, Texas; and 180 miles of land boundary between Lordsburg and Santa Teresa.
There are 2,700 agents in 11 border patrol stations in the sector.
Along the Southwest border, agents arrested more than a million illegal immigrants in 2006. That number dropped to 327,577 last year.
In the El Paso sector, agents stopped 122,256 illegal entries in 2006. Last year’s number was a little more than 10,000, according to federal numbers.